Readers Rides…Floride – Chic French Fancy

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1962 Renault Floride SMarque loyalty is customary within the classic scene but one reader really only rides the Gallic glamour from the brothers Renault.

Floride – Chic French Fancy

There can be no denying that Renault’s Dauphine based sportster was ‘tres belle’; uncluttered Italian styling from Ghia’s Pietro Frua.  Chausson produced the sculptured panels that were assembled by coachbuilders Brissoneau & Lotz. The model was required to break through the American desire for home grown talent whilst fending off the European challenge from the likes of VW and its popular Karmann Ghia. The Renault brand was looking to increase its market share ‘Stateside’ and a visit by MD Pierre Dryfus and Director of Research Fernand Picard was arranged in 1956 to ascertain what the French manufacturer should create to satisfy the American market. Renault dealers pushed the idea of a similar concept to the VW approach, requiring an attractive sportster that offered style over power, easy to drive and fuel efficient. Over dinner at the Florida Governor’s residence, the Renault executives arrived at a plan to utilise the Dauphine underpinnings (as VW used the Beetle’s) in order to reduce production costs. Project 1092 was created and whilst the name Floride was used to recognise the models location of conception, the car would actually be named Caravelle in America. The Paris Motor Show of 1958 featured Renault’s new concept and enjoyed huge interest with 8000 orders prior to production.

Engine choice Just 956cc and being beautifully petite allows the fuel tank to fit just in front with the radiator behindThe New York Show induced similar fascination with a further 13000 pre-production orders taken; these alone required Renault to alter the planned 30 cars per day increasing to 200. The Dauphine based Floride would be built until 1962 by which time the all new Renault 8 had arrived, offering a similar rear engine driving experience but with more power and improved handling; this would become the base for the new coupe Caravelle and the Floride (S) or Speciale. Introduced at Geneva in March 1962, the ‘S’ featured the 956cc Sierra engine from the Renault 8 and ‘filled-in’ the side air scoops on the previous model as the cooling radiator was moved to the rear. Whilst the Caravelle version remained a 2+2 coupe, the Floride S was essentially a soft top convertible with a fold down very occasional rear seat and an optional hardtop design by Ghia. The UK buyer of a Floride S finished in Kilimanjaro White with hardtop included would have paid £1231 12s.9d including tax in 1962.

African Adventure

This rather stunning Floride was originally purchased by a very generous husband for his wife whilst the pair vacationed in France.  Having spotted several ladies negotiating the streets of Paris, roof down and looking glamorous, the couple decided the Floride was for them. A trip to the factory at Billancourt, order placed, the car would have to be delivered to the husbands work address in Nigeria. The Floride was driven to Liverpool and loaded onto a cargo vessel for the 4500 mile, 19-day trip to Lagos. It remained in Africa for 4 years and covered 9000 miles before the lady returned to the UK after the sudden death of her husband. Re-registered the ‘Speciale’ was used sparingly in the short term before remaining garaged for the next 38 years. The garage in London where the Renault had been stored was due for demolition in 2001 and an advert found its way into the marques classic car club magazine and into the hands of restorer and Floride expert Malcolm Rogers. He confirmed everything was seized up, the carpets had rotted and the paint offered a totally flat appearance but the low mileage at 9k and rarity of the model in RHD made up for any problems.

Beautifully finished and minimalistic, just what the driver needs, so comfortable I could spend all day insideEvery fluid had turned to a foul smelling gunge and the oil in the sump had become a two-inch layer of tar that required a paint scraper to spoon it out. The engine internals though showed little signs of wear and Malcolm promised himself a no expense spared restoration; that is what the Floride received and why it still looks superb 15 years later. Parts came via the impressive talents of the Renault Classic Car Club, not an easy task when the car was stripped to the shell and anything replaced had to be genuine. Three years later the original engine, gearbox and drive train were all refitted, new carpets were the only requirement on the interior. Even the door cards and seating had survived, just requiring many hours of gentle cleaning before returning to their original locations. Once completed it was generally accepted as one of the best examples available, not just in the UK but across the globe.

Right Place, Right Time

Tony Nappin had already looked at one Floride, via an Ebay advert but it wasn’t the right car; ‘I was looking to re-create my mid-sixties experience in 2008 I suppose and although the first one required too much work, it re-kindled my enthusiasm to find one, so I contacted the Renault Classic Car Club’ he explained. Once in-touch with Malcolm Rogers the pair had spent a couple of hours talking old Renaults, especially Floride’s and Caravelle’s; Malcolm agreed to pass on any prospects that came his way. A few days later Tony received another call from Malcolm with the suggestion his Floride S could be available for sale. ‘I couldn’t believe how good it was when I first set eyes on her, pristine to look at and a pleasure to drive’ thus the Floride headed south to Portsmouth eight years ago, at that time having travelled 14,200 miles under its own power. Tony considers himself very fortunate to have got the chance, thrilled with his umpteenth Renault ‘it was just a case of right phone call, at the right moment, for the right car’. Tony has become part of the Renault Classic Car Club taking over as Vice Chairman and the Floride is a regular on the show circuit across the south; usually winning any trophies on offer.

Speciale Test Drive

Renault Floride S 1962From any angle the Floride oozes style, certainly Brigitte Bardot thought so becoming the ‘fairy godmother’ of the car appearing in many Renault adverts with the lines “The wind in your hair, the sun on your face and a bright smile when you head for the sunshine and open air... Get away from it all with a young, sparkling, sophisticated car...” and her payment, one Renault Floride. There aren’t many better places to be than behind the wrap-around screen of the Floride on a summers day, roof down and enjoying the country lanes. The rear mounted 4 cylinder humming away behind with just 51bhp on tap, this Renault was never designed for the traffic light GP but for the enjoyment of driving; that it delivers in abundance. The gorgeous thin gearstick snicks from one ratio to the next, the suspension takes bumps in its stride and the four-wheel disc brakes operate on a par with most ‘moderns’. The seating is comfortable and although the Floride S does offer the option for rear travel you wouldn’t want to stay in the fold down seat for long.

Typical French cool displayed on the brochure cover for the Floride S at the dawn of the swinging 60sIt really is a two seat cruiser for Europe, a Thunderbird minus the muscle but making up for that with flair and style. Under the bonnet ample baggage room for a week in St Tropez where the Floride would appear most at home whilst in the boot an immaculate 20k mile engine. The folding roof disappears completely below the line of the boot lid for an uncluttered look and surprisingly the hard top slots into position with just a couple of fittings, although it does require two people to hoist it into place. Once secured the roadster becomes a leak-free coupe, perfect for any winter runouts. Following an afternoon with the Floride, it is no surprise my host confessed ‘After all of the Renaults I have enjoyed, this is my greatest prize, I doubt it will ever be sold as I have already promised its future to my daughter.

Renault Floride S 1962 Specification

  • Engine: Four cylinder OHV 956cc
  • Power Output: 51bhp @ 5500rpm / 54.3 ft lbs torque @ 3500rpm
  • Performance: 0-60 19.4 seconds / 85mph max / 34 mpg
  • Gearbox: Four speed manual
  • Length: 14ft Width 5ft 5in
  • Weight: 2480lbs